Being a tourist in Oahu is a lot of fun, and it’s even more fun if you know what you’re doing. If you’re anything like me on vacation, you want to maximize your time-to-fun ratio and avoid all of the underwhelming tourist traps like landmines. I’ve been here for 4 years and I’ve fallen into all the tourist traps. Most of the popular online travel guides are pretty god damn lazy when it comes to suggestions. I wanted to put together a more practical guide from somebody that’s been here for more than 2 weeks. Here are the best and worst spots if you’re a tourist or a local looking for something to do.
Hiking Diamond Head
It’s not that the hike is bad per se, it’s just an overcrowded mess. There are too many tourists that pack the trail every day, it’s dirty, people leave their trash all over the place, and the view at the top gets so crowded that you can barely move or take a photo without a bunch of strangers’ heads at the bottom (see above). Oahu is filled with amazing hikes that have even better views than Diamond Head. The only reason to go is to check it off your bucket list. Or if you absolutely love waiting in line for hours. So I guess if you’re British this is the one for you.
There are several beaches along Waikiki. Queens and Kaimanas are two of the better ones. The main beach, right outside of Duke’s Waikiki, suffers from the same problems Diamond Head does. It’s a sea of Japanese tourists dressed in Hazmat suits holding umbrellas like there’s an Ebola outbreak because God forbid the sun touches any part of their skin. It’s loud and dirty and you’ll be dealing with assholes who started drinking Mai Tais at 9 AM.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
I know I’m going to catch some shit for this but I just don’t get the hype over Giovanni’s. I can get shrimp like this at 100 other places on the island and I don’t have to overpay for it. There is some cultural significance to it but food wise it’s entirely forgettable. Not to mention there are much better places to eat on North Shore. Try Konos, Uncle Bo’s, Surf N’ Salsa, or literally anywhere else. Take a photo in front of Giovanni’s and save yourself a few bucks.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Do you love looking at dead coral? Then you’ll love Hanauma Bay! A place overrun by tourists who refuse to heed the warning signs and have sucked the life out of all the coral in the bay. From above it looks like a bunch of dried cat turds floating underwater. If you’re looking for good snorkeling you’ll be severely disappointed, overcharged, and will most likely catch a few fins to the head
Matsumoto Shave Ice
Yep, I said it. If you want to wait in a long line for a snow cone be my guest.
Manoa Falls hike
This is #2 on the list of “most overcrowded hikes on Oahu”. You can find every basic asshole who wants to “see a waterfall” or “go on an adventure” at this trail. There is a cool offshoot right before the falls where you can climb up to the top of the waterfall but the regular trail isn’t worth the crowd.
Look for a trail on the left about 25 ft. from the falls and follow the it to the rock wall. Climb up the rock wall and you’re there.
Makapuu Lighthouse trail
Easy, tourist-level hike but it offers amazing views and is the right level of challenging. Plus they paved the entire way so you don’t have to worry about tripping on rocks or anything like that and unlike Diamond Head, the trail is wide enough to accommodate the crowds. You can hike straight up for the lighthouse view or stop half-way and hike down to the tidepools on the back side. Parking is a nightmare but other than that, it’s my favorite tourist hike.
Kayaking to the mokes
This is a cliche activity to people that live on Oahu but it’s a lot of god damn fun. “The mokes” refer to the Mokuleia islands right off the cost of Kailua. Find a local travel company or rent your own kayak, bring lunch, and kayak the two miles where you’ll find yourself at a secluded island. There’s also some pretty sweet cliff jumping in the back if you don’t just want to stare at the ocean the whole time.
Snorkeling in Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove is a tourist destination but it’s massive and most of the visitors only stay in the shallower parts. Once you get a little bit into the open water where the caves are there is plenty of room. There is a lot of coral (that’s still alive) fish, turtles, and despite the name, rarely any sharks. If you’re looking for snorkeling this is your spot.
Beaches on the west side
Yokohama beach, Koolina beach, Makaha beach park, Ma’ili beach park, the list goes on and on. If you’re looking for the quintessential Hawaii beach day west side is the best place to go. The lack of crowds and picturesque views are much better than anything you’ll find in and around Waikiki. Just don’t get caught there after dark because you will get robbed.
A well-known tourist destination on North Shore that never disappoints. Again, parking is an issue, it will always be an issue at well-known spots on Oahu, it’s an issue on not well-known spots on Oahu, there’s nowhere to park here. Besides that, you have one of the largest beaches on the island with plenty of room to spread out, a jump rock for cliff jumping, and a rock wall to do some bouldering if that’s your thing. Or you can just get drunk and enjoy the view. It’s impossible to have a bad time.